Vatican: The Possible Return of the Sedia Gestatoria

April 02, 2020

On March 25, 2020, during his visit to Saint Mary Majors to pray to the Blessed Virgin, and especially during the blessing Urbi et orbi in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis movements were noticeably slower.

Afflicted with chronic sciatica, Pope Francis walks with more and more difficulty. This alone, coupled with the prospect of meeting the faithful again and renewing the pontifical audiences as soon as the pandemic is over, led those around him to anticipate that his old symptoms will return.

This is why the Office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations is playing with the idea of bringing back the ancient Sedia Gestatoria. There would be several advantages in reusing the famous sedan chair: the pope no longer has to walk; the crowds can see him but he is still protected; the slow journey works better with his wish to be close to the people; and finally, this method of transportation is more environmentally friendly than the current Popemobile, a Mercedes-Benz fueled by gasoline. At a time of initiatives advocated by the encyclical, Laudato Si, it would be a strong symbol, combining tradition and modernity.

The Pope's ceremonial, Monsignor Guido Marini, would be in favor of using such a process, if it is adapted to the 21st century. For him, it excludes bringing out the ancient Sedia stored in the Vatican museums.

However, they have to consider several specifications first, such as the choice of material. They mentioned a light structure made of carbon, aluminum, or titanium, but nothing has been laid down. There is also talk of having a minimum distance of one meter between the carriers, for hygienic reasons. An aeration system is also being studied, to provide fresh air around the Holy Father and ensuring that it is warm or cool, depending on the season. It is out of the question to go back to the ancient ostrich feathers which used to provide this, but whose use would no longer be understood today – and buying them is now forbidden.

John-Paul I was the last pope to have used the Sedia Gestatoria, the day before his death, September 27, 1978, at a public hearing.